If you crack open a beer this Fourth of July, history might not be the first thing on your mind. But for Theresa McCulla, the first brewing historian at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the story of beer is the story of America.
“If you want to talk about the history of immigration in America, or urbanization or the expansion of transportation networks, really any subject that you want to explore, you can talk about it through beer,” McCulla says.
Since taking the job earlier this year, she has combed through the Smithsonian’s archives and pulled out treasures that show beer’s part in American history — whether that has to do with advertising, technology, gender roles or even popular entertainment.
Pointing to some sheet music in the collection for a song called “Budweiser Is a Friend of Mine,” she explains that the tune premiered on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Follies in 1907.
“The lyrics of the song tell the story of a man who goes out drinking in a bar and sings about how he prefers his Budweiser to his wife, because his beer does not talk back to him,” McCulla says. “But the song concludes with his wife pouring him a schooner of Budweiser at home so he does not need to drink elsewhere.”
Photos: Underwood Archives/Getty Images; National Museum of American History, Archives Center